The Los Banos Empty Bowls meal that will take place Feb. 23 in the Ted Falasco Arts Center has a decade-long history connecting art with service to the community.

Tickets for the Thursday evening meal ($20 per person), which can be enjoyed anytime between 5 and 7:30 p.m., are still available from Los Banos Rotarians or by calling Gene Lieb (209.704.3831)

With the price of a ticket a person can have a simple meal of soup, bread, and water and take home a unique colorful bowl, selected from hundreds of bowls created by students at Los Banos schools.

Between now and Feb. 23 five ceramics teachers will be helping their students shape, fire and glaze the bowls. The art teachers involved are Sharon Caredio and Malissa Mathis from Pacheco High, Trinidad Gallegos from Los Banos High, Chris Busse from Los Banos Junior High and David Hartley from Creekside Junior High School.

The tradition of local art teachers being involved in Empty Bowls goes back to Jim Clarke who taught art and other subjects in the Los Banos Unified School District for 47 years.

Clarke, who retired in 2017, worked with Rotarian Colleen Menefee to create the first Empty Bowls meal in 2010. Jim and Colleen both passed away in 2021, less than a month apart, but their project and their legacy live on.

Prior to 2010, Colleen had heard about Empty Bowls, an international project which started in Michigan in 1990 as a way to reduce hunger, and she wanted to create that event in Los Banos. At that time, she was a Los Banos Unified Board School District board member. She enlisted the help of Clarke, an art teacher with a special talent for ceramics.

Clarke was as eager to do the project as Menefee was, and together–with the help of the school district, the Los Banos Rotary Club and the Los Banos Arts Council—they made it happen in 2010.

Clarke enlisted the help of other ceramics teachers in the district and created hundreds of bowls, which were decorated and glazed not only by students but by many adult volunteers in the community.

It was an insightful idea to link art with service to the community, an idea which lives on today. As Pacheco High art teacher Sharon Caredio recently put it, “It is good for the students to understand that helping and giving back to the community is very rewarding and very noble and it isn’t just about a grade. It’s also a way to challenge their creativity.

“I have always promoted this project back when Jim Clarke started the program,” Caredio added. “It is fun and very rewarding to be able to help out the less fortunate in our community. It’s a great cause.”

Creekside Junior High art teacher David Hartley agrees. The Empty Bowls project “fulfills a need to give back to the community,” he said, “and gives the students an opportunity to create something that is not just a ‘dust collector’ work of art, but something that is also useful.”

The students in Hartley’s ceramics class will be making a pinch pot bowl with an inscribed design on the outer wall of the bowl. The color scheme, Hartley said, “will be the students’ choice from among warm, cool, analogous and complementary colors.”

“The art students at Los Banos Junior High are hopeful,” art teacher Chris Busse said, “that their hand-built pottery can be used to help those in need, “while also being appreciated for art’s sake.

“To me this is win-win,” Busse added. “Anyone who is donating to this cause and takes home a bowl will know it is a special treasure made with kindness.”

The Los Banos Rotary Club has helped in the creative process by delivering to each of the four participating schools 50 pounds of clay and bottles of glaze.  Los Banos Rotarians and other community volunteers are willing to help glaze the bowls, if needed.

At this year’s Empty Bowls event Los Banos Rotarians plan to honor the memory not only of Jim Clarke and Rotarian Colleen Menefee but also of Rotarian Marg Benton, who passed away last year. Benton, a past president of the Los Banos Rotary Club, invested many hours of her time over the years in previous Empty Bowls events.

All in all, on Feb. 23 Rotarians and many other members of the community will be coming together to help feed those in need, appreciate and support high school artists and their artwork and remember individuals who did so much for their community. It promises to be a memorable evening.

On another note: I would like to say a big thank you to the Los Banos firefighters who helped a senior citizen friend of mine after her legs gave out and she crumpled to the ground.

Three firefighters came to her rescue and, using a towel under her arms, gently but firmly pulled her up. They continued to help her get situated into a comfortable chair and didn’t leave until they knew she would be OK.

They treated her with dignity, kindness and good humor. They showed why they are among Los Banos’ finest.

Friends of mine who have also been helped by Los Banos firefighters have told me the same thing. They feel, as I do, lucky to be living in a community which has such kind as well as highly competent first responders.